An area of farmland in Tyldesley will be an exciting example of how agriculture can benefit wildlife.
While much of the blame for wildlife numbers plummeting over the past 50 years has been laid at the door of agricultural practices, many farmers have worked hard to support plants and creatures.
And The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside will call on those past experiences, while introducing their own wildlife-friendly projects at Cutacre in Tyldesley.
Cutacre is 96 hectares of farmland acquired by The Wildlife Trust from UK Coal in 2013. It was restored to agriculture with other parts of the site being an opencast mine.
Staff and volunteers have already created a number of meadows which are being grazed by The Wildlife Trust’s long-horned cattle and cereal crops will be grown. Other areas of the site will be kept wet to encourage wading birds and amphibians.
Greater Manchester Conservation Officer Martyn Walker said: “This is a good area for birds like lapwing, redshank and snipe. Lapwing have bred but the others have not nested as far as we know.
“We know that brown hare and roe deer are in the area so there must be some coming onto Cutacre. There is evidence of water vole being found on site in the past, which is hugely important as they are one of most endangered mammals in the UK.
“We also have great-crested newt on the site, in fact we have some ponds which are five-amphibian ponds, which is rare – frogs, toads, great crested newt, smooth newt and palmate newt.
“There are birds of prey hunting in the area. The other day, as I was leaving the site, turning the vehicle around on the track, I noticed a field vole in the middle of the track some 10 metres away, just as a kestrel swooped down and, barely touching the ground, scooped it up and carried it away!”
The Wildlife Trust officers and volunteers have created eight ponds and 12 scrapes at Cutacre to encourage more wildlife. As you enter the site from Mort Lane you can see buzzards and hear skylarks twittering overhead.
Martin said: “We want to encourage local people to come to Cutacre to see the work we are doing and to join in, if they feel like volunteering. It is a place that you visit and fall in love with.”
The work will include helping to maintain the diverse grassland on the site, which is important for bees, butterflies and other insects. Volunteers will also be called in to tend the cattle and sheep which will graze the meadows to correct lengths before the birds move in.
Species like brown hare, partridge, breeding waders, yellowhammer and tree sparrow benefit these grasslands and flower-rich meadows. The loss of some of these areas in the UK has been disastrous for a number of key species. Two bumblebee species have become extinct in the UK during the 20th century and six bumblebee species are priority species for conservation action.
One in five native wildflower species is currently threatened with extinction, and specialist grassland butterflies have become highly localised due to a drastic decline in availability of the wildflowers their larvae depend on for food.
Hedgerows will also be improved at Cutacre to provide food and shelter for many species of plants and animals.
Wigan Projects Manager Mark Champion said: “The area was heavily grazed by horses in the past. Returning this landscape to an agricultural system that is grazed appropriately will increase the flower diversity and over time will allow plant species to colonise the grasslands. There will also be a reduction in the use of fertilisers at Cutacre, creating a natural environment for the wildlife.”
The importance of this site in adding to the links and corridors for wildlife in Wigan cannot be underestimated as an integral part of the Great Manchester Wetlands NIA it is already adding important habitat for our wading birds, farmland birds and skylark these are the species with some of the largest declines in the UK and shows the Lancashire Wildlife Trusts commitment to helping reverse this trend by seriously investing in landscape conservation
Volunteers have already worked on maintaining and creating ponds, ditches and fens, which are appealing to wildlife. The ponds will also provide drinking water for the cattle.
Mark said: “We want this site to be an example of how agriculture can provide profitable crops like cereals and hay, but if must support wildlife at the same time.”
And The Wildlife Trust is adamant that local people should see Cutacre as their own piece of countryside. Martyn said: “We want people to embrace Cutacre. We want them to walk through the site to see the work we are doing and help us to protect the wildlife here.
“Come to Cutacre, bring your family and your dog (if it is under control) and realise what a beautiful place it is, next door to where you live.”